Church graffiti

Research into Norfolk's medieval churches has discovered pieces of graffiti that could be up to 500 years old. We bring you some of the fascinating images

A carving of a ship as graffiti

Research into Norfolk’s medieval churches has discovered pieces of graffiti that could be up to 500 years old.

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The drawings, which have been identified by the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, were made on buildings including Binham Priory in the north of the county and feature designs including a sailing ship, spiral patterns and a demon-like figure.

Find out more at the survey website

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(All images courtesy of Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey)

Graffiti circles found in churches
A compilation of compass drawn circles, and variants found in many of the churches surveyed to date. It is believed that these are ritual protection marks designed to ward off the ‘evil eye’.
Graffiti crosses found in churches
Although crosses would hardly seem an unusual find in a medieval church, the vast majority of examples are located in church porches, suggesting a specific ritual use.
Graffiti footprints and handprints found at churches
Footprints and handprints have been recorded at a number of sites, including the example here from Ludham church. They are believed to be devotional in nature, but their exact meaning remains unclear.
A shield inscription found at Ludlum church
Heraldic inscriptions are fairly common finds in East Anglian churches, like this example from Ludham church. However, without any colour it is often impossible to identify the family.
Graffiti found in a daisy wheel design.
These compass-drawn designs are common finds and are regarded as ritual protection, or ‘apotropaic’, markings – designed to ward off the evil eye or demons.
A graffiti ship carving
A carving of a ship as graffiti
A collection of ship carvings
Ship graffiti has been recorded in dozens of churches, not just those near the coast. Many are devotional in nature and may have been prayers for a voyage safely undertaken, or for a voyage yet to come.
An early example of graffiti in the shape of a fish
Fish, birds and animals are common subjects for early graffiti.
An example of early graffiti found in Troston Manor
Abthorpe’s family held the manor of Troston in the late 15th century. This piece of graffiti can be found in the tower arch of the church.
An early example of graffiti found at Walsingham church
The inside of the porch at Great Walsingham church is inscribed with several little pictures of harps. The motif has also been recorded at several other Norfolk churches – but its meaning remains a mystery.